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Thursday, February 02, 2023

How to Do a “Trial by Declaration”

A Trial by Declaration is an alternative to a court trial. Rather that having oral testimony, the evidence is submitted in the form of written declarations that are considered by the judge. The option to use a trial by declaration is set forth on the back of traffic citations. Unfortunately this method has not yet been adopted nationwide. Although the method is mentioned on the back of the citation, no instructions are provided.

Anyone can download the forms needed, if they can figure out on their own which forms they need. Anyone can fill in the forms, again, if they can figure out on their own what information is required. If you are able to complete these two steps on your own, then just mail the forms to the court with your signature at the bottom.

Your written declaration will include your testimony and objections to anything that the officer may send to the court, if the officer even bothers to do this. You can also add pictures, maps, etc. to support your case.

What happens next?

If the officer doesn’t bother to write a declaration, your case will be dismissed. You won’t get any points on your license and you won’t have to pay any fees or costs to the Court.

If the officer writes a declaration by the due date, you will have already included necessary objections that will permit the judge to ignore the officer’s declaration. The judge will rule on your case.

You will be informed by mail of the verdict. You will get a “Trial by Declaration Judgment.” If you are found not guilty, the charge is dismissed.

If you are found guilty, a fine may be imposed, but the judge may also assign you to complete a DMV approved Traffic School. (Each Declaration already includes a request for traffic school.) When you provide proof of completing traffic school, the court will set aside your conviction and no violation points will be reported to the DMV.

What if I lose my Trial by Declaration?

If the judge finds you guilty after reading your declaration, you are automatically entitled to a new trial. This “Trial de Novo” will be an in-person trial in which the judge hears evidence and testimony from yourself and the citing officer – just like if you did a trial in the first place, except months have passed to give your officer time to forget. To request a trial, just send a “Request for Trial de Novo” to the court postmarked within 20 days after your guilty verdict was mailed to you. This form is available through a link on these websites or it may be requested from the court.

If the officer does not show up at the new trial, your case is dismissed. By the time you get to this trial, three to six months after you were cited, the officer may no longer remember significant facts of your case, leading to a dismissal. If the new judge at your second trial accepts your argument, that judge can dismiss the case or find you not guilty. Even if you are found guilty at your second trial, the judge can still reduce your bail and assign you to traffic school.